Golden Chicken 2 (2003)

Directed by: Samson Chiu
Written by: James Yuen, Aubrey Lam & Mark Wu
Producers: Peter Chan & Jojo Hui
Starring: Sandra Ng, Jacky Cheung, Chapman To, Ronald Cheng, Leon Lai, Anthony Wong, Angelica Lee & Andy Lau

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Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2004:
Best Actress (Sandra Ng)
Best Actor (Jacky Cheung)
Best Art Direction (Hai Chung Man & Mak Kwok)
Best Costume Design & Make-up (Hai Chung Man & Cheung Sai-Kit)

Nomination at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2004:
Best Actor (Jacky Cheung)

Golden Chicken presented a biographical picture of a not so pretty hooker named Kum (Sandra Ng) and the ups and downs of Hong Kong history that she lived through. Ultimately well-meaning and a hit with local audiences, the film as a whole seemed strangely boring despite fine production values and acting. At the time of its release in 2002, the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak had not yet happened but this sequel, teaming up most of the key personnel once again, takes the opportunity to reference the difficulties that came with it, making Golden Chicken 2 actually stand above its predecessor because of it.

The year is 2046 and our 82 year old Golden Chicken (which is slang for prostitute) Kum (Sandra Ng reprising her role), although younger looking thanks to millions spent on plastic surgery, spots a heartbroken man (Chapman To) planning to take memory loss-pills. Claiming that Hong Kong people have a way of forgetting, she begins to recap part of her life story, starting in 2003 during a time where she's desperately looking for a husband and the SARS outbreak happens. Also of importance is the story, starting in 1980 between her and her cousin Quincy (Jacky Cheung). One where romance was quickly shattered because of greed. Those memories continues on during sporadic meetings in the 90s and in one defining moment in the aftermath of SARS...

Samson Chiu continues writing his love letter to Hong Kong, and you're god damn right he should be able to do so! What Golden Chicken 2 lacks in pure thoroughness, it makes up in the message it presents to the Hong Kong people. Of course that was needed after another hardship endured in the form of SARS. Therefore, Golden Chicken 2 feels uneven but the goal of putting a smile, a tear and inspiration into the Hong Kong people's minds succeeds greatly, just like the first movie. Only with more heartfelt results this time around in the eyes of this Westerner.

The portrait of Hong Kong in the sequel centers once again on the backlashes they are the subject of. Funnily enough, Chiu's Hong Kong of the future is a nigh on perfect one however. There's pills for most diseases and economy is better than ever. Which of course is part of the ultimate positive message delivered, this time in an overdone fashion for sure but I don't mind the makers going all out. Viewing audiences are still bound to take with them something positive. The 2003 aspect of the movie is dedicated much to the months leading up to, dealing with and thankfully getting through the SARS crisis, the movie's definite shining moments. The subplot concerning Ronald Cheng's character, who barricades himself in Kum's apartment and is obsessed by body hair, sure reeks of weirdness but gets a fair emotional payoff in the end but the standout moments come in the understated relationship between a doctor (Leon Lai) doing battle with SARS and Kum. It does eventually go the highly melodramatic route with Canto-pop blasting away but makes sense on a realistic level and provides Leon Lai with a suiting character to play. I bear no shame when I say that this, albeit short section, is terrific and highly touching. It also shows the effect SARS has in dividing a rightfully paranoid public. Chiu is definitely pushing the right buttons here.

Events are kept to a select few for the sequel, making it more of a focused experience but one flaw it does possess, but one that undoubtedly works for the local audience, is that pesky whacky Hong Kong comedy. This type of exaggerated and broad humour is a staple, trademark and a recipe for box office success but if us on the outside can't connect to it, what's left is the actual drama and seriousness of the story, which is what I wanted more of. Chiu doesn't destroy either mood by having them interfere with one another but proceedings do drag when we're in whacky territory of the film. Having said that, there are some clever comedic touches such as Kum making her facemask a workable fashion accessory and while not subtle, the digs at Wong Kar-Wai's 2046 (that was still not finished when Golden Chicken 2 started production) and the revelation of the future president of United States are fun. Watch out for an homage to producer Peter Chan's Comrades, Almost A Love Story or rather one of its key shots also.

Another problem with the first film and what continues here is that I find Sandra Ng the actress compelling but not the character she's playing. Or rather, I don't find her special enough to warrant two movies but those feelings definitely set in more when there's comedy on display. Screenwriters James Yuen, Aubrey Lam & Mark Wu actually connects the movies nicely in a key way and the ongoing 20 plus year romance between Kum and Quincy turns out to be surprisingly compelling. But it comes in bursts, that's the problem with the Golden Chicken films.

While more restraint consciously, being an Applause Picture production, the film looks superbly professional with suiting design work all round and an non-intrusive style that immerses the viewer to perfection. Applause is on to something and has been for quite some time. No technical laziness on display here.

Again, no fault of Sandra Ng and it's just my preference in regards to the huge spotlight on the character of Kum, but Sandra makes great use of what she has to work with. Thankfully, there's more development to her that generates drama and that Sandra can do extremely well by now (even though the hysterics of some of the melodrama could've been taken down a few notches by director Chiu). She makes the moments that I like seeing with Kum, entirely worthwhile, bouncing well off her co-stars, in particular Jacky Cheung.

Cheung's Quincy is a vile, deceiving little creature with a nervous titter that drives you up the wall. Sign of a good performance? Yep, but the surprising end to his part of the movie and its effect is due to Cheung's previous outrageousness. That leads up to a superb dramatic moment, his last minute on the screen where the filmmakers show a better restraint in the melodrama as well. Evolving maturity in certain performers is great to watch, Cheung being one of those examples. Anthony Wong, Angelica Lee and, in an updated version of his cameo from the first film, Andy Lau turn up for pleasing screen moments as well.

Golden Chicken 2 still suffers from a flimsiness found in the first film but as with that one, Chiu communicates the uplifting message to the Hong Kong people very well, in a sloppy Lunar New Year kind of way (this was a Christmas release though I should point out and a few days afterwards, the Hong Kong people lost Anita Mui to cancer). Thankfully, the heartfelt nature of the different hardships registers more favorably this time around for an foreign audience. Perhaps because we knew more of the SARS outbreak that features prominently or perhaps because Samson Chiu has just made a better film? You be the judge.

The DVD:

Megastar presents the film in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that has been anamorphically enhanced. Aside from a few specks and slight grain on occasions, this is a detailed and colourful presentation, as to be expected from a recent film.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track mainly uses the front stage and when spread out, it's for music and score. Dialogue sounds crystal clear. A Cantonese DTS 5.1 and a Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 dub is also included.

The English subtitles feature excellent spelling and grammar. The explanation about the real events in the movie are well-worded, one aspect that needed to be done right. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

It probably wasn't needed but the extras (none of which come with English subtitles) are reserved for a 2nd dvd . Starting with the text piece called The Story, it actually is a valid extra this time around since this plot synopsis isn't printed on the dvd case itself.

The Making Of can be viewed in 2 shorter edits or the full version, which only lasts for 10 minutes anyway. Nothing much exciting happens here other than some amusing footage of the cast at work and Samson Chiu himself firmly directing how one of the bed scenes should be performed.

(Left, Samson Chiu and mullet directing Sandra Ng. Right, Anthony Wong, plus eyebrows, interviewed, from the making of)

3 specially themed trailers (Anti Piracy, Gorilla and All Stars) are up next. In an amusing touch, the first two features exclusive footage for that particular trailer and it's a shame they weren't subtitled. The All Stars clip has English narration and tries to be tongue in cheek but failing rather miserably. Trailers for Magic Kitchen and Elixir Of Love can also be found in this section.

The first of the two Music Videos is your standard movie clip collage set to, to me, an unknown artist and song. Second clip features the cast lip syncing and fooling around to another unknown song from the movie. Obviously the latter proves to be more fun than the former.

Cast & Credit first has a simple 2 page Crew listing, which is then followed by the Bio & Filmo section. Here producer Peter Chan and director Samson Chiu receive fairly informational biographies while Sandra Ng's is sorely lacking on more substantial information. A 17 page Photo Gallery finishes the 2nd disc.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson